Nat Coombs

Nat Coombs

Former stand-up now a presenter for TalkSport, ESPN and others
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Pitch fest

TV execs sold sitcom ideas

Eight comics – including two Brits – yesterday pitched their sitcom ideas to a panel of top industry executives from America, Canada and the UK.

The annual Just For Pitching event in Montreal attracts scores of hopefuls wanting their five minutes to put their ideas to decision makers in front of an audience of comedy industry members.

And young British comics Nat Coombs and James Mullinger were among those chosen to take part. Coombs, pictured, pitched an idea about a naïve but far-right American youngster ‘with a confidence bred from a lack of self-awareness’ making a video diary of her travels in Britain in which she ineptly tries to tackle big social problems. The show, Dear Journal, was described as ‘Clueless meets My Name Is Earl’.

The panel said the show was a funny idea – but thought its execution in a video trailer could have been improved. ‘You had me up until the video,’  one said. ‘I don’t think it did the quality of your pitch justice.’

Mullinger, picture editor on GQ magazine, pitched a show called Success, set in an upmarket men’s magazine  facing pressure to become more populist in the face of competition from lads’ mags. The panel ‘loved the simplicity of the idea’, but said: 'It's down to your script, I think there is room for a men's magazine sitcom if you've got the characters right, you've got the stars in it and the writing's good.'

Among the other pitchers was Bill Hicks’ former collaborator Dwight Slade, who suggested a sitcom about a 39-year-old man embarking on an exercise, self-help and dating regime to revitalise his life after a divorce. The show, he said, should feature reality elements, in which unsuspecting fitness gurus or other members of the public would interact with the main character – an idea the panel thought would be too difficult to pull off, and would then overshadow the scripted elements.

Many of the pitches contained reality or improvised elements, with at least half of them saying they wanted to shoot in the style of Curb Your Enthusiasm. But the executives warned pitchers against including such ideas just because it was what they thought the networks wanted to hear, rather than being integral to the show.

Other advice doled out to potential comedy creators included:

  • The premise does not make the show – we need to know who the main character is. What is his goal? What does he want?
  • What we call stunt casting [when you suggest stars will make cameos in the show] is a red flag that you’re not feeling good about the show.
  • How do you ensure the series has longevity. What happens episode after episode?
  • Political content is scary to most networks right now
  • You need to identify with three or four people – and maybe it’s not the lead character – to make you want to come back.
  • Beware of making sample videos of the show. What I had in my head was more interesting than the video. If you have a solid concept, the video can get in the way.
Other shows pitched were: The Garden (Ronnie Khalil) about a loser who winds up living in a box in New York’s Madison Square Garden; The Cult (Kira Soltanovich and Rachel Reiss) an Office-style mockumentary about a group of inept people trying to start up a spiritual movement; Bangalore Whore (Ian Harrison), a workplace comedy about an Indian call centre; and A Comic Life (Eddie Pence) about the comings and goings of a comic book store, under its reluctant owner and cast of oddballs – including a star from an ancient sci-fi series who lives in the shop in the hope of being recognised.


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Published: 21 Jul 2006

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